Lessons I’ve Learned During My College Experience

black woman graduate

Saturday is the big day. After a long journey, I’ll receive the degree I started pursuing 12 years ago. Since this chapter of my life is finally closing, I’m reflecting on everything that’s happened along the way. Here are a few notes on what I’ve realized while pursuing higher education.

Expensive Schools Don’t Mean Higher Quality

I started my college career at a community college. This was done reluctantly on my part because I originally dreamed of attending a prestigious private university. At the time, I was embarrassed at the idea of attending a community college, because I believed it was for rejects who couldn’t get into a “real” college. Yes, I know how dumb it sounds. This is the way my 17-year-old brain operated.

I plugged through two years of community college and received an associate degree. It was time for me to move on to a four-year university and this time, I refused to settle for a second-rate school.

My choice was a private university in Atlanta. I hadn’t done much research on the school. I just knew they offered my major (back then, it was fashion) and it was in a cool city. It was super expensive, and I didn’t receive any scholarships, but I had learned about student loans by then and decided to finance it that way.

Within my first semester, I knew I made a mistake. The academic environment was extremely disorganized. If you asked me what assignments I completed then, I couldn’t even tell you. That’s how easy and uninvolved the curriculum was. The only benefit was being able to socialize with new people. Still, spending nearly $40k a year to have a social life wasn’t worth it to me.

After two semesters, I dropped out. Fast forward to now, I’m graduating from a public university in my hometown. Had I enrolled there immediately after leaving the community college, I would have received several transfer scholarships and probably would have little to no debt.

You live and learn though. I try not to beat myself up too much about my poor choice-making. I just think of it as an expensive lesson that a fancy private school doesn’t determine the quality of education.

A Degree Does Not = Happiness

Growing up in a home where education was held of the highest importance, I’ve allowed a degree (or lack thereof) to define my identity for a long time. There were many nights when I cried and chastised myself for not completing my degree sooner. I had been conditioned to believe a degree is a magical key that will unlock all of life’s opportunities.

I now realize this is far from the truth. There are people with no degrees who are content with their lives, as well as people with degrees who are miserable. While it’s true that a degree can sometimes give you leverage in job opportunities, not having one doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of mediocrity.

The irony of it all is that the career path I want to pursue now, I really don’t need a degree for at all. I’ve been writing since early childhood and worked to get better at my craft even when I wasn’t in college.

Having a degree doesn’t hurt though. Now I have the skills, and credentials to back them up. My perspective on college education has changed a lot since I first started. I think of it more as the icing on the cake, rather than the whole cake itself.

It Took This Long for a Reason

It sounds cheesy and cliché, but it’s true. If I had done everything the “normal” way, I wouldn’t have the life experiences that made me who I am. I would have graduated, taken a job, and held onto the belief that anyone who doesn’t obtain their degree in four years is lazy and unmotivated.

If I did things the normal way, I wouldn’t have joined the military. Life wouldn’t have gotten frustrating enough for me to start a blog and sort out my thoughts. I wouldn’t have learned how much student loans suck and feel compelled to warn others about them. I probably wouldn’t be married.

Taking this long to get my degree has shown me that you can go through life without one and still be okay. It’s made me find creative ways to do things that people say you can only do if you’re college educated with a good job.

I’ll feel a great sense of pride when I walk across the stage on Saturday. More than anything, I’ll feel relieved. Relieved to have this weight off my shoulders and to fully experience life without a degree as the main focus.

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